Bajnai Analytica: One million calls to stolen phone numbers
After the text message campaign, the DatAdat company network, which is running the campaign of leftist PM candidate Peter Marki-Zay, carried out a giant telephone campaign, Mediaworks News Center reports. Businesses linked to former Socialist Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai used illegally obtained data to call one million voters in the days leading up to the Hungarian parliamentary elections to be held on Sunday. The theft of data and influencing via social media, unprecedented since the change to democracy, is already being compared to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
After the text message tsunami that flooded the electorate, the DatAdat group did not stop there, as the network built by former Socialist Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai and his Minister of Intelligence Adam Ficsor started a massive phone campaign on Thursday, reaching approximately one million Hungarian voters, Mediaworks News Center (MWH) reports. A joint investigation conducted by service providers and authorities has revealed that
the text messaging campaign was ordered through an intermediary company by the DatAdat group’s Austria-based subsidiary, which also provided the huge database needed for the operation.
MWH understands that the phone calls were made using a similar scheme. It also became clear that the unlawfully obtained set of data consists of phone numbers paired with names downloaded from Facebook accounts, primarily from the Messenger app, as well as contact information accessed from banking and commercial databases. This also explains, MWH writes, why the organisers
sent out the text messages and initiated the calls practically indiscriminately, without targeting people according to political affiliation. That is most likely why vast numbers of right-wing sympathizers, members of the government and conservative public figures also happened to receive the Left’s short campaign messages, personalised with their own names, as well as calls from non-contact numbers.
An IT expert told Mediaworks News Centre that it must have been an action in which there was no selection process of the people targeted; the primary goal being to reach as many voters as possible. The expert added that honed, precisely targeted actions of DatAdat had been launched a long time ago. The point of these is to use personalised messages to keep pro-government voters at home and to mobilise left-wing voters to go to the ballots.
That is to say, Mr Bajnai’s circle is primarily targeting undecided voters through AI and chatbots.
Chatbots collect data in a way that is undetectable to users, often disguised as a quiz or other game activity, among other things, MWH writes. Companies like DatAdat can map the political preferences of Facebook users from their answers to quiz questions and other interactions.
They also determine – as Mr Ficsor put it in a recording cited in an article appearing on the Index news portal – which voters are “willing to take a step closer to your campaign.”
One comment is enough
Several similar materials were published on Mr Marki-Zay’s Facebook page, and if a user filled out any of them, he or she was automatically subscribed to the leftist candidate’s mailing list and received the messages in the Messenger application. Those, in fact,
are automatically activated even if the user posts just one comment on one of Marki-Zay’s posts.
It’s worth noting that the quiz-like activities, in addition to collecting personal data, also served as propaganda material in which the mayor of Hodmezovasarhely “hid” his political message. Perhaps the most bizarre of the quizzes was when Marki-Zay promised Facebook users that they could find out if Prime Minister Viktor Orban was a mini-Putin by filling in a questionnaire. The left is trying to appeal to and attract younger people with this kind of entertainment content, as younger generations are more active users of social media. Chatbots may also mark other users as friends in order to collect their non-public-accessible data.
User indications of likes and dislikes are also examined,
with the collected information used for political profiling. The more data there is, the better advanced algorithms can determine what political message is getting through to whom, how to target them, and encourage them to vote or even dissuade them from voting altogether.
This is facilitated by the ability to analyse and profile users in real time based on their Facebook activity. The basis of the method was developed in the early 2010s by Michal Kosinski, one of the best-known figures in data-based psychology, who is also regularly mentioned in the Hungarian press. According to this model, it takes the analysis of less than seventy likes to know more about a user’s behaviour than their close friends, around one hundred and fifty likes to know as much about them as their parents, and over three hundred likes to know more than their partner knows about them.
By analysing the extracted data, a profile of the user can be created, which can be used to easily identify their skin colour, sexual orientation and political sympathies.
After Cambridge Analytica there’s “Bajnai Analytica”
The effectiveness of such analyses was highlighted by the Cambridge Analytica (CA) scandal. CA created a detailed profile of users, then sorted voters into several categories and was able to influence the Brexit referendum and the U.S. presidential election with targeted personalised ads and messages compiled using artificial intelligence. Many experts are convinced the UK and the US have this method to thank for tipping the majority of respective voters to cast for leaving the EU and for Donald Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton. In both cases, the less likely scenario came out on top, leaving experts and pollsters scratching their heads.
Even with significant tightening of data protection regulations in Europe in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Bajnai and the affiliated DatAdat group can easily get around them.
On the one hand, before taking various quizzes and questionnaires, users unsuspectingly consent to the data management policies, thus giving the data fishers practically free rein. On the other hand, some of the companies in the DatAdat group are registered in Estonia, where the enforcing of compliance with data protection rules is known to be significantly relaxed. The latter is obviously also being taken advantage of by “Bajnai Analytica”.
The compilation by MWH reveals that DatAdat group has:
- influenced political processes in a dozen countries including Bulgaria, North-Macedonia, and Germany
- had a decisive role in making Peter Marki-Zay the winner of the Hungarian opposition’s primaries
- paid for the luncheon of the Hungarian Left’s PM candidate, which raises the question of illegal campaign financing
- employed foreign staff based in Austria to work on the Hungarian Left’s election campaign, created false Facebook profiles and paid commenters to generate more traffic to and bump up beneficial content on social media
- and is utilising the network of progressives in the US Democratic Party to profile Hungarian voters, which raises concerns about suspected foreign interference in Hungary’s elections on 3 April
- and is taking the personal data of Hungarians abroad
- a less than transparent financing, but can be linked to multiple offshore companies.